On Models Backstage…
Ter Et Bantine Backstage | Paris Fashion Week.
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When I first started covering fashion week a couple of years ago, I was all about the street style. I’d reach out to people about gaining access to shows, and came out on the other end with well over a hundred rejections. And why should they? I wasn’t anybody. So while I still travelled to different cities covering the fashion outside the shows, my philosophy of coverage was really anti-establishment, even if not by choice. This meant not caring about the labels on the handbags and making a concerted effort not to photograph models backstage or on the street. But as my work improved and gained some recognition within the industry, there was a slow-moving shift in the industry’s knowledge and/or perception of me. I started receiving invites to attend shows (standing only). Slowly that improved, too. Here and there, I’d receive some front row invitations. Backstage invites soon followed.
As my ability to cover fashion expanded, so did my awareness of things I needed and wanted to cover. Street fashion photographers spent so many seasons shooting editors outside that it was becoming stale, so they needed someone else to shoot. Enter models off duty, and the new swell to cover shows models backstage. I’m not sure how other photographers from the street feel about this, but I would venture to guess that most of them would say that right now, coverage of models backstage is the holy grail of fashion week.
Several hundred people can descend on a show, but only a small handful of lucky shooters are ever allowed to photograph models backstage. Last season I had had several opportunities to do this and so I took full advantage, but after the season was over I had a hard time putting anything substantial on my work. . . . I didn’t know anything about these models, didn’t know most of their names, and they didn’t know me. I had a bunch of images that didn’t mean anything to me, and so I had no way of making them mean something to the public. To be fair, it wasn’t like I had time to “hang” with the models; they have a show to do and part of my job is to stay out of the way. But this past season, I made an effort to thank models when I took their photos. I did this in New York, London and then again in Paris, to the point that by the time I got to Ter Et Bantine backstage, a funny thing happened. I felt like I was the only photographer in the room whom they knew. They made faces just for my lens, joked around (whenever I tried to photograph Franzi Müeller, I kept getting photo-blocked by Yumi Lambert, who’d just as quickly skip off as if nothing happened). I wasn’t family, I don’t think that’s quite possible, but they knew me. It was from this session that I realised what Lord Ashbury (and my approach to coverage) was really about: humanising fashion, the passion, energy and emotion of it and the people involved, one portrait at a time.
Being able to shoot models backstage is a unique opportunity to capture many different aspects of fashion in one place at the same time. From the photojournalism aspect to the beauty, finding candid moments or staging portraits, it’s really the one place where photographers have the opportunity to get that one image that nobody else will have. I have some photo from this day that will probably never appear on Lord Ashbury; perhaps if I ever get a book deal I can have them published there. Otherwise, I don’t know what I’m waiting for, but sometimes, I’m keenly aware of the limitations of a blog, the internet. Not all real estate is created equal.